Productive Procrastination and Subjectivity

My weekly writing wrap-up is 12 hours late. I know. But it’s still Wednesday, so I figure it’s not all bad. Besides, I’ve been busy… Okay, I don’t have any good excuses. Or even mediocre excuses. Mostly, I’ve got the kind of excuses that really add up to procrastination. But it’s all been completely justifiable, productive procrastination. Really.

This week, I was insanely excited to be the winner of Chuck Wendig‘s Friday Flash Fiction competition, with my story Wish You Were Here. The prize was one of Chuck’s ebooks, and I chose Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey. I’ve been procrastinating reading it for much of the week, and getting a lot out of it. If you haven’t read any/much of Chuck’s website, I’d highly recommend either diving headlong into his past posts, or picking up a copy of this book. It’s full of epic win. Oh, and drop by and read the other stories from this competition. It’s well worth it.

Of course, the euphoria of being the winner quickly transformed into a dire need to produce another good story for this week’s Flash Fiction Comp, the theme of which is: That poor, poor protagonist. If not a better story, then certainly one of comparable quality. Or at least one that doesn’t completely suck. And so I’ve spent far more time working on this piece of flash than I have my actual WIP.

Hmmm… That wasn’t really the idea. But… reading about writing… writing short stories… they’re both productive. So they’re not really procrastination. Right? Maybe?

So, long story short, (“Too late!”) I didn’t actually add a lot of word count to my novel this week. In fact, I only added *cringe* 600 words. But I DID write every day (even if 3 of those days were working on my Flash Fiction), so I’m now up to day 30 of my 100 Words Challenge.

In other writing news, I have been inspired by Stephen Watkins to enter a story into this quarter’s Writers of the Future competition. I’ve been editing and re-editing the story over the last two weeks. I’d love to have four or five people read it and give me some feedback/critique on it. If you’d be interested, please let me know.

I’ve spent much of this week thinking about the reaction that we get from others when they read our work. I put forward this statement:

Writing is Art. Art is subjective.

As I mentioned last week, I had a story receive an honourable mention in the recent Stringybark Speculative Fiction Award, and it was thusly published in an anthology. I requested feedback on the story, and received it this week. Part of the feedback was that of the three judges, two really liked my story (and rated it quite highly), but the third didn’t like it and didn’t want it published because s/he didn’t think it was new or different, and “nothing much happened”.


There’s absolutely nothing I could have changed about my writing that would have made that judge rank my story any higher. S/he didn’t like the story. Not because it was badly written, or because the writing was weak,  but because s/he thought the idea had been done before. And probably done better. The other judges thought that my storytelling made an “old” idea fresh and interesting. This judge didn’t want to read another story about time/space portals.


Now, it would be really easy to get upset, to yell and scream, to complain that you can’t judge the merits of a story on what you do or don’t like. But… Really? Everyone does. Why should a writing competition be any different to a fiction market, or an agent, or a publisher? Or, for that matter, a reader?

John Steinbeck is, by all accounts, an amazing writer. But I don’t like his books. I really don’t like them. I wouldn’t spend money on them. If I was a publisher, I wouldn’t have published them. On the other hand, look at Stephanie Meyer. Her “merits as a writer” are far and few between, but she has a huge following because people like her books. They like the stories, regardless of her writing ability.


And, you know what? I think that’s okay.

What do you think?


Filed under Writing

14 responses to “Productive Procrastination and Subjectivity

  1. Hi Jo. I would be more than happy to read through your story for you, you can send it to jodymoller (at) virginbroadband (dot) com (dot) au.

    I received feedback too, with a similar outcome. For Character I scored 5/5 from one judge and 2/5 from another – clearly they didn’t like my character (though her unlikeability is kind of the point of the story… but anyway!) As you said – it is impossible to impress everyone!

  2. I’ll be glad to read over your story for you. I know how feedback is important. (Even if it can be scary. ;))

    I agree with you and Jody. It IS impossible to please everyone. In a rejection email I received the other day. One person liked my story and how the dream came into reality. The other didn’t like that it was partly a dream and felt it was a cop-out. So, I wasn’t published.

    And you’re completely right about another thing. Everyone judges by what they like and don’t like even if the writing is brilliant.

    • Thanks, Emerald.

      It’s hard when you’re trying to please multiple people at once. Mind you, it’s probably a good thing when you’re striving for publication. I mean, no one’s going to publish us if only 1 out of 100 potential readers will like our work!

  3. I would be very interested in reading your story. You have my email.

    I never liked Steinbeck either, though I read him so long ago that I don’t remember what I read or when. Maybe I’d feel differently today, or maybe not.

    I’ve never seen anybody who was involved with writing in any serious way have a nice word for Meyer, so that’s really quality vs. popularity. Lots of people go see Michael Bay’s movies, but no film people like him. Those situations are pretty straightforward. You can do very well if you know who your audience is, and what they want, and you can figure out how to give it to them.

    Steinbeck is different, and you can’t just dismiss him. If you were teaching a 20th century American literature course, you would have to include him,even if it was just to detail his shortcomings. Henry James is another one — some people can’t stand him, but you can’t pretend he never existed. I had a professor who was rather obsessed with James, in a negative way. He constantly used him as a negative example of this and that, but he obviously liked him in a rather perverse way (which he was rather embarrassed about).

    Also, if you’re evaluating a piece of writing for professional publishing, it’s not really a question of how you like it yourself. It’s a question of what you think will sell. Whoever signed Meyer didn’t necessarily like her writing, but clearly they saw the commercial potential. As we used to say, they’re probably laughing all the way to the bank.

    • Thanks, Anthony. 🙂

      Quality vs Popularity… I like your examples, especially Michael Bay. And it’s also true that, in a capitalist world, popularity is more important than quality to get ahead, but quality is longer lasting. (Look at the movies from the 50s that are still popular today — pretty sure Jersey Shore isn’t going to running endless repeats in another 50 years.)

  4. “Writing is Art. Art is subjective.” Agree 100%. I think art is far more subjective than people try to make it, and that any attempt at objectivity is still going to end up as a veneer over a deeply subjective core.

    As for Stephenie Meyer, people read her books for a reason: she connects with them. That’s a sign of a good writer. I’m not personally a fan of Meyer’s work, but I respect her abilities as an author.

    • I agree — I have a lot of respect for Meyer as an author, and for her ability to connect with people all over the world. But, on a purely subjective level, I have no intention of reading her books because I think the subject matter is ridiculous, and it annoys me that she’s spearheaded an entire vampires-as-Byronic-heroes sub-genre. But, like I said, that’s a purely subjective viewpoint.

      I’m not quite sure how one would go about judging art of any kind in a purely objective fashion. Something like:

      ({# Verbs} + {# Nouns} – {# Adverbs} + {# Advectives}) x {Average words per sentence}?

      As soon as you start talking “emotional journey”, “idenitifiable characters” and “evocative description”, you’re in the realms of subjectivity.

  5. Well, since you gave my story a read, it looks like I owe you a roundabout favor. I think you have my e-mail… send the story my way and I’ll give it a read.

  6. Also… On the subject of artistic subjectivity: Yes.

    I’ve never read a word of Stephanie Meyer, and I really have no intention ever of doing so. And yet, I find myself defending her. Because for all that what I know of her stories fills me with “meh” and complete indifference… there’s an audience for that. And hey, I’m not one to stomp over the joy she brings that audience. There are those who complain that J.K. Rowling was a talentless hack – and really, everything she did in Harry Potter really had been done before. But hey, I loved those books, and I thought they were well-written.

    So… I’ve never read some books. I might think they’re awful tripe. But I can’t really make an truly objective statements about the skills or qualities of the writer, because frankly that’s a version of elitism that I’m not interested in advancing. I can wish that the stuff that I think is good and beautiful and worthy gets more attention… but I don’t begrudge the audience that exists their joy.

    It’s like Transformers mentioned above. After the first movie, I couldn’t bring myself to even consider the second or third, despite my enthusiasm for the subject matter. I thought the first was just that bad. But I can’t begrudge the masses their popcorn flick. I can wish they’d spend their money on a popcorn flick with a brain and a heart, but hey, what can you do? They like what they like, and we can grouse and complain but if there is a Michael Bay Transformers 4 it will make bucketloads of money.

    • True, true and true. Popularity defines the arts, and always has Even Shakespeare is full of sex, violence, and toilet humour.

      Also, I’ve just been reminded of a Zoolander-ism:
      “Sting would be another person who’s a hero. The music he’s created over the years, I don’t really listen to it, but the fact that he’s making it, I respect that.”

      Much as using a Zoolander-ism to support an argument is a bit lame, it’s kinda true. Just because I don’t like something on a subjective level, doesn’t mean the creator isn’t worthy of respect.

    • Stephen, I definitely believe in defending people against the “everything she did in Harry Potter really had been done before” argument, because people always use that argument against things they don’t like, but it’s almost always true about the things people _do_ like, too, but they give those things a free pass.

      Everything is built on things that came before, what else would it be built on?

      I complain about everything these days being vampires vampires vampires, but I see Let the Right One In and I’m loving it, and tell me about the Dark Shadows movie and I’m all SQUEE! I like them, so suddenly the vamp vamp vamp thing isn’t so annoying after all.

      • You’re right about that, too. Saying “it’s been done before” is a pretty poor criticism, and says more about the critic’s personal, subjective tastes than it does about the quality or value of the work being critiqued. I suspect it’s the result of trying to find an objective quality on which to base a subjective assessment.

        But, objectively speaking, everything‘s been done before, so saying so about a given work is rather redundant… So I guess that shows what my comment on Harry Potter is worth… it really had been done before, but so what? What hasn’t? I loved it and so did millions of other people, and that’s worth something.

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